What an immense gift we are given in this human power to speak; this wild phenomenon of mind and heart coming together with sound to be voiced!
I’ll never forget the moment when my sweet daughter Arayla, at about 10 months of age uttered her very first word, “kiss.” We were still lying around one morning in bed, having just finished nursing, and as I adoringly kissed her sweet, pink, juicy face all over, with each kiss I planted, I said softly: “kiss… kiss… kiss… kiss… kiss…”
It was just an ordinary moment of divine mother-baby love. And then suddenly she said, distinctly: “KISS!” and I gasped, watching her little eyes open wide in recognition of her newfound power, as she repeated with her high-pitched baby voice: “Kiss, kiss, kiss!” clapping her hands with pride and joy. Oh to witness her little vocal mouth merging with her intelligence, discovering the capacity to let sound become word: what a wondrous thing!
It is an awesome power indeed — how we can use our words to bless, to praise, to pray, to convey our heart’s ponderings, to clarify our thoughts, giving voice to insight and intention. What a treasure: this way we can use our words to tell a brave and tender truth, to teach and explain, to express our perceptions, our yearnings and vulnerability. What a potent capacity we have — to use our words to express our remorse, to name our gratitude and proclaim our love; to extend the grace of forgiveness.
And of course, on the shadow side, what equally powerful and humbling capacity we have to cause real harm with our words. There are the blatant forms of this — when we allow our pain, anger and fear to speak in ways that sever us from our own hearts; the unfortunate power we have to use our words violently in blame and judgment; to wound, to punish, to intentionally cause another being to suffer; or simply in narcissistic sloppiness, how we can quickly make a mean mess with our words.
Recently I stumbled into a dark mood. Agitated by the Summer heat, sleep-deprived and triggered by a few different things not going my way, I became grumpy and impatient, and for a stretch of about 40 minutes, I indulged this grumpiness and lazily let my words extend from it. Unfortunately, during this time, I happened to interact with several different people, including my two children, and watched the power of my energy spreading like a contagious force of dark will. Fortunately I was able to catch it before too much harm had been done, re-center my intention, and apologize sincerely in the different directions I had allowed my irritated energy to flow. But it was a humble reminder of the infectiously toxic ripples we can create with our words.
And there are even more subtle, less conscious ways we can unwittingly cause harm with our words — while speaking from our blind-spots, our own sub-conscious wounding and conditioning; moments when unbeknownst to us, our voices are contributing to the poison of ignorance, subtly perpetuating the disease of war and separation in our world.
I was quite young still — 16 or so — when I began to notice this great range of power to be found in speaking; this innate capacity to bring both beauty and harm with our words; and as though remembering something from my ancient soul reserves of wisdom, I knew I must learn to be vigilant, discriminating and discerning with my words. It was at that point that silence became a precious companion.
I spent a lot of my college years alone — quiet in contemplation, creating art, attending class, studying and writing. The social atmosphere of college life held little interest or resonance for me. Often, in everyday social situations, when I would go to speak, I would find the uncomfortable gap between what my heart knew to be true, what I authentically yearned to share, and my limited confidence and ability to say it. I felt socially awkward (not unlike how I still feel in moments!) in the face of the cultural expectation to exchange words loosely, superficially, disingenuously and casually: “Hey, how are you? Why, just fine thank you, and you?”
After college I lived for 18 months at a remote residential healing school, sequestered in the golden hills of Northern California. It was there I was offered the unusual choice to wear on occasion a small sign around my neck, much like a name tag, with the simple words printed “In Loving Silence.” I wore this sign on specific days when I was authentically called to embody quiet. What a gift this was — the permission to claim my own silence, the speechlessness and utter wordlessness I so often felt, while attending my classes and meals; inhaling and exhaling the colorful bounty of sunrises and sunsets.
Not long after that I met my spiritual teacher Gangaji, and by the grace of her spoken words, so masterfully pointing the heart Home to its Source, I awakened to the truth of my being.
Her words were unlike any I had ever heard: words of utterly profound, mind-stopping truth; words of true teaching. Her words were sublimely given to speaking the unspeakable, somehow telling the un-tellable, inviting direct revelation of the unknowable; holy words pointing to the vast, silence Source, from which all words arise. Her words invoked the realization of what cannot be thought; what is deeper than thought, deeper than knowing and unknowing. Her words somehow illuminated the shining, endless, exquisitely mysterious truth of the matter.
Bless the countless teachers who use their voices in such a way: to inspire, to guide, to clarify, invite and embrace! Bless the words used as skillful swords to slice through the mind’s relentless habits of dichotomy, separation, and defense. Bless the words so generously intended to open, to ignite and beckon awakening; to annihilate illusion and confirm true self-awareness.
Yesterday, retreating at a beloved local hot springs, a place I visit in gratitude for the sacred, natural healing sanctuary it is, I found myself challenged at one point to incorporate the constant presence of human chatter into my space of silent reverie.
Irritated and distracted, I witnessed my own impatient, opinionated human thoughts — wishing everyone would just be quiet, especially in a holy, healing place like this. I thought: if only we could let the incessant need to express our minds just come to rest for a bit, take a blessed pause, be willing to look deeper than social and vocal exchange, so as to open more fully to the infinite treasures waiting for discovery within?
Of course I noticed with ironic humor the sound of my own thoughts, certainly just as loud and annoying as anyone’s chatter, and my impatience thankfully gave way to a deeper truth of inclusion: all the sounds of life can be seen as sacred and precious, when seen from the eyes of the heart. Mindless, social, human chatter is not unlike bird chatter; simply another sound of God speaking to itself.
And yet, I still can’t help but take notice of how often people approach me in this space, wanting something — ranging from sexual energy to simple friendly acknowledgment; various forms of seeking attention. We all want something, don’t we? It’s natural, and really quite innocent. But how often do we turn to mindless chatter and casual conversation, sharing our endless stream of thoughts, either in hopes that it will bring us what we want — attention, connection, intimacy, acknowledgment, entertainment, love — or that it will temporarily distract us from the discomfort of our deeper longings?
What we most deeply want is unspeakable, and cannot be sated by any exchange. Words can certainly serve it, but they will always fall blessedly short.
I invite you, as I invite myself, just as an experiment: to try speaking only what must be said, and leave the rest behind. I invite you as I invite myself to hold the word as a sacred power we have: to heal, to inform and transform, invoke and invite, as well as to harm, to wound, to delude and to sever.
What are we contributing to today, with the words we choose to share? What are we hoping to get from what we say? Attention? Agreement? Collusion? Connection? Are we contributing to love, or to fear with our chosen words? To truth, or to suffering?
Speak less, and see what arises. Speak from presence, and see what this feels like in your heart and body. Speak only what is true for you to speak, and see what space this opens for yourself and the ones with whom you share your words.
It is only a short while we are given with these minds and hearts and voices unified in these particular, individual forms.
What will you say? How will you use the gift? How will you voice your heart, your seeing, your perception, your questions, insights and revelations? How will you bless us with what you choose to speak, and equally so by allowing us to receive the delicious, silent spaces in between?
I can hardly wait to hear.
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GPS for the Soul – The Huffington Post
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